Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monkee Mayor”

“Nevermind the furthermore, the plea is self-defense”

“Monkee Mayor” aired October 2, 1967, and though that was a mighty long time ago, the story doesn’t feel dated to me. The ideas are still relevant today. It’s also one of those stories where the Monkees are working to help the underdog, instead of working for their own purposes. “Monkee Mayor” was directed by Alex Singer and written by Jack Winter, the same combo that did the previous episode in air-date order, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik.”

At the Monkees pad, Peter and Davy prep Mike to cut a ham, putting multiple rubber gloves on him (Like they did in “The Case of the Missing Monkee” when they impersonated doctors.) The neighbors, Mrs. Filchok, Mr. Swezy, and Mrs. Homer come in and take back the chairs, dishes, and table the Monkees had apparently borrowed. Why? Because the older folks are all being evicted. Their homes will be torn down to put up parking lots (“You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” – Editor]. Mike takes a look at the notice they’ve received and explains it’s impossible because it violates “every zoning regulation.” Just as he assures them, the sounds and the dust of the destruction begin.

Mike goes to city hall and asks the Secretary to tell the mayor that, “Michael Nesmith, private citizen, is here to see him.” He explains that innocent people are being thrown out because of the parking lot the city is building. She condescendingly asks if he’s making a complaint, then shows him through to the “Complaints” door that leads him back out onto the street. Mike walks right back in, determined to see Mayor Motley. She shows him through another door which leads him to a brick wall. Adding injury to insult, Mike gets hit in the head with a random mallet.

Mike comes back and now he’s angry. His yelling draws out Mayor Motley, played by Irwin Charone who was also the Producer in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Mike introduces himself and stammers through his complaint. Motley keeps messing up his name, calling him “Niswash” like Bernie Class did in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Motley distracts Mike with the following subversive speech: “Our country was founded in 1612 from across the shores,…from across the shores the pilgrims landed and found Indians, luckily they moved those Indians. Why, throwing people out of their homes is the American way!” He shakes Mike’s hand, thanks him for his opinion. Mike leaves, stammering and not realizing he’s been brushed off until he’s outside again.

Motley goes into his office to discuss the diabolical plan with a Mr. Zechenbush (Monte Landis). Zechenbush, who has a vaguely southern accent, wants to “ring” the entire city with parking lots so no one can go in our out without having to pay them. The mayor points out they would have to tear down museums, schools, hospitals, etc. Never mind that nobody would bother come to the town to park if they get rid of everything people would potentially visit. [I’m reminded of Flint, Michigan in the late ’80s. – Editor] It doesn’t have to make sense, because it’s evil! They don’t explain exactly who Zechenbush is (plot description on Wikipedia says he’s a ‘crooked construction tycoon) but he owns Motley in some way; he probably gave Motley a lot of money to get him elected we can assume. He’s a crooked lobbyist. Motley’s eagerly agrees with whatever Zechenbush says. I’m also curious about what town Motley is mayor of? They’ve established the Monkees live in Malibu. The story for this episode has such a small town vibe, that’s hard to imagine.

Mike goes home and finds the neighbors have moved in. He still wants to help them, he has motives for the greater good, “we don’t want a dictatorial government running the city” and “the rights of an individual citizen have got to be respected” and also pragmatic motives, “we’ve got to get all these people out of our house.” Micky comes to the conclusion that Mike should run for mayor. He’s the only one with “a hat to throw into the ring.” At that moment, he’s not wearing it. Repeating the gag from “Monkees on the Line,” Mike asks “where’s my hat” and someone throws it to him from off screen. Then Micky tosses it “in the ring.” Micky calls Motley to warn him that Mike is running for mayor and they’ll see him in the polls on Thursday.

The Monkees work on Mike’s political image. First Mike impersonates George Washington. (Peter did this first in “Monkees a la Mode.”) Davy vetoes this (“too honest”). Mike protests, “How can you be too honest?” Next, he’s “bearded weirdo” Abe Lincoln. Davy declares he “doesn’t have the looks.” Mike makes a terrific Lincoln. The third option is Lyndon B. Johnson, who was the president when this episode was aired. Mike as LBJ promises, “And so until this crisis is over, I will hunker down like a jackass in a hailstorm, dot dot dot.” Davy protests, “no politician would ever say a thing like that.” 

Deciding Mike’s everyday look is perfection, they launch the campaign with Micky as campaign manager, Davy as aide-de-camp, and Peter as his campy aid. I always thought aide-de-camp was a military term. It’s Peter’s title that really amuses me though; this show is campy enough, no “aid” required. Peter treats Mike as though he were a ship being christened and tries to brain him with a champagne bottle. Fortunately Micky and Davy intervene.

They launch the campaign, counting down into the romp for “No Time” (Hank Cicalo). I dig this song, sort of a gospel sounding number. The tempo suits the violence of the romp perfectly. This song was written by the Monkees themselves, but credited to Cicalo as a “tip” for him because he was their recording engineer for The Monkees, More of The Monkees, Live 1967, and Headquarters. He also engineered some tracks for Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones as well as Michael Nesmith’s The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.

The romp itself is one of the best; funny, subversive and moves the story beautifully. The basic narrative is the Monkees promoting Mike’s campaign, and it all goes go horribly wrong. Mike judges a beauty contest; after he picks a winner, the losers beat the crap out of him. Micky helps an old lady cross the street and she beats him with her umbrella. Davy stops to kiss a baby and the Mom assaults him with kisses. This is juxtaposed with the Secretary smacking back Zechenbush for kissing her. Mike meets and greets the public, one of whom steals his watch. (Stand-in David Price is among the crowd.) Mike stops Peter from using a toy bazooka on Davy but then a bunch of well-dressed people pull guns on Mike. We see Zechenbush paying off all of these people to humiliate the Monkees. Delightfully cynical. Other visual highlights include Peter disappearing into a bottomless baby carriage and Micky hanging a “Mike Nesmith for Mayor” sign on his date’s behind.

After all that fruitless work, the Monkees come back to the pad to find that it’s been ransacked and the campaign posters vandalized. They consider who would have done this and Micky mentions that the cleaning lady comes on the second Thursday of every month with an “r” in it. (Yet in “The Chaperone,” she came Tuesdays.) Mike guesses the culprits were “goons from Mayor Motley’s office.” Speaking of Tuesdays, I found a fun interview with Michael Nesmith, promoting his new memoir, Infinite Tuesday. Check it out.

The Monkees go back to the mayor’s office to find out what he’s hiding. Conveniently, no one is around so they can sneak in and search the office file cabinets, closet etc. Very forward-thinking of them, in a criminal way. (This is five years before the Committee for the Re-Election of the President busted into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters.) Peter opens the closet and finds a skeleton dressed in a suit. (Nice visual pun!) Micky removes a key from the skeleton’s pocket to open the locked file cabinet, knowing it will work because “it’s a skeleton key.” In the cabinet, Davy finds the plans to turn everything into parking lots. Peter materializes an 1880’s Eastman View camera (similar but not the same medium format camera from “The Picture Frame”) out of nowhere. He takes a picture of the others displaying the incriminating evidence. Before they can escape, Zechenbush and Motley come back. The Monkees hide in the closet, Micky taking the skelton’s place inside the suit. There’s a funny gag when Micky, “the skeleton,” hands Zechenbush the key and Zechenbush thanks him. Zechenbush notices the camera. As the Monkees improbably sneak out in plain sight, Motley and Zechenbush obliviously discuss their paranoia that Monkees have seen the parking lot files.

At the pad, Peter develops his film. Turns out he took a picture of the file cabinet, not the plans. As in “Monkees on the Line,” the other three cover Peter’s eyes with his own hands in annoyance. Zechenbush, Motley, and the Secretary discuss finding dirt on Mike while they wait for him to make a play with the evidence they assume he has, but it’s no use. According to the Secretary, Mike’s had a “nothing life.” No arrests, no firings. Really? I’m pretty sure Mike has been fired (“Monkee vs. Machine”) and arrested but acquitted (“The Picture Frame”). I guess none of the insane things they’ve done have never made the papers, like: terrorizing an airport, riding a motorcycle through a Laundromat, or disrupting a televised boxing match.

The Monkees are ready to throw in the towel since they have no evidence against the mayor, and no campaign funds. Micky enters with a bag full of checks from people contributing hundreds and thousands of dollars to Mike’s campaign. (The “little people” are mentioned here, as they were in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.”) Micky says they can “blow this town wide open,” and the editors cut to stock footage of a building being demolished. Mike points out that’s exactly what they’re trying to prevent, so Micky re-states that they can blow the town “wide closed” and they reverse the film so the building re-assembles itself.. (The music here is an instrumental version of “Star Collector.”)

The Monkees spend cash. Micky goes to the newspaper and literally throws money at the publisher to put Mike on the front page and everywhere else. Peter wants a skywriter to write Mike’s name in the sky “with the sun dotting the “i”. But the pilot isn’t good enough, Peter wants Lindbergh! (Charles) then he decides, “On second thought, get me Rickenbacker! His penmanship is better.” Davy goes to the television station, directing the cameraman (played by Monkees stand-in David Price) when to give Mike close-ups for his TV appearance.

Back at the pad, Micky, Davy, and Peter give Mike a pep talk. Zechenbush walks in uninvited and Mike tells him he’s going on television to expose him and his “whole racket.” Zechenbush explains that the checks the Monkees spent were all from people that work for him, so Mike’s campaign is now also funded by Zechenbush. He’s figured out a way to own Mike and warns him to withdraw or he’ll “get him” and his friends. It seems they’re screwed.

The Monkees go to the TV station anyway. Davy, Micky, and Peter encourage Mike not to give up. Then, they sit and watch to see what Mike will do, and the neighbors watch Mike on TV from the pad. For the scene, they use that “Stand By” sign again, the one used for previous episodes “Too Many Girls” and “Captain Crocodile.”

Once he gets the signal, Mike begins to speak. He explains he began his campaign hoping to help people like his neighbors that didn’t have any power. He didn’t think it was right that no one would listen to them so he wanted to do something. Mike admits, “I got sucked up in the very forces I was trying to conquer” and his campaign was financed by an “improper source.” Though he was unaware and got tricked into doing this, he figures he’s “not smart enough to be mayor.” It’s very moving and aided by Michael Nesmith’s natural and non-actor-ly delivery. Trouble is, Mike is an honest and hardworking character, the kind you would want in public office. That same quality makes him unlikely to succeed at getting elected at the “dirty game” of politics. It’s a catch 22; someone who has the right characteristics to succeed at getting elected, may not be someone who should be trusted with leadership. It’s the ultimate cynicism of this story. 

Zechenbush and Motley entered the TV studio in the meantime. Motley is motivated by Mike’s words. He approaches and, in a callback to the earlier gag says his name correctly, and Mike corrects him, “Niswash.” I have to question Motley’s quick change of heart on this, but it is, after all, a 24 minute show. Just when you think Mike has accomplished nothing, Motely declares “one man’s honesty throws sand in the machinery.” Motley promises to mend his ways and make the town “a cleaner and more personal place to live.” Zechenbush slips out the back defeated.

Mike’s ill-fated campaign could be looked at as alternative to a protest. It’s interesting that the writers/producers didn’t go the protest route. Instead of Mike running for Mayor, they could have had the Monkees staging a protest of city hall. Protests were a big part of counterculture of the time. Creating chaos is a Monkees specialty, but instead of trying to change things from the outside, they try to make Mike an insider. But episodes like “Monkees a la Mode” have established the Monkees as outsiders. On the other hand, young people protesting may have been too controversial for a network sitcom. It also would have dated the episode and locked it into the 1960s. “Monkee Mayor,” as it stands, has a timeless appeal.

Next is a tag sequence as the neighbors thank the Monkees for saving their homes. The Monkees exposit that the mayor canceled his plans to put parking lots where their homes were, and Zechenbush is in jail. Micky wonders where the parking lot will be built, and a wrecking ball comes crashing through the ceiling, followed by a Rainbow Room performance of the song  “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Goffin/King).

According to the Monkees Tripod site, this episode was originally titled “Micky for Mayor.” I imagine the original script called for Micky to run for office. But the job suits Mike better. Micky Dolenz is a fine actor, but Micky is tricky. Michael Nesmith comes off sincere. He’s compelling actor; he delivers the speech at the end and you feel bad for him. I actually teared up a bit. I get the feeling from listening to various episode commentaries that maybe Mike didn’t like acting much, or at least his own acting. On the IMDB he only has 11 acting credits. I know the world doesn’t need another actor but in a way, it is a shame. “Monkee Mayor” shows what an effective job he could do.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

 

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Picture Frame”

“What’s My Motivation?”

“The Picture Frame” starts out with the “Hurray for Hollywood” sound-alike incidental music and the sign for the fictional Mammoth Studios, first used in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Some previous episodes where the Monkees tried to break into show biz were “Captain Crocodile,” “Find the Monkees,” “Monkees at the Movies,” and “Monkees in Manhattan.” Mike, Micky, and Davy wander onto a soundstage and meet Harvey and J.L., who tell the Monkees that they want them to play bank bandits in their picture. Harvey and J.L. are wearing berets, and it amuses me that berets are what crooks think will let them pass for legit Hollywood producers. The film flips over and the three Monkees appear in gangster-wear with guns, cigars, suits and hats, etc. (It’s probably an illness on my part, but I find them rather sexy here.) Previously we’ve seen the boys as gangsters in “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” “Monkees a la Cart,” and Micky in “Alias Micky Dolenz.” In all those cases however, the Monkees were trying to fool crooks into thinking they were of their kind.

J.L. asks the Monkees for a picture to see “how they photograph” and Davy whips out a baby picture. J.L. throws it away and asks for something more recent. Micky grabs a medium format camera to take a picture of the crooks with Mike and Davy, despite J.L.’s protests of “no pictures.” They get an instant picture which J.L. tosses in the same trashcan. J.L. tells them they’re all set up to shoot “the bank stick-up scene” at the 9th National Bank. He tosses scripts at them and explains they use the “hidden camera technique” so they won’t see the film crew. The Monkees, who have perpetuated dozens of cons aren’t suspicious of any of this.

“The Picture Frame,” directed by James Frawley, originally aired on September 18, 1967. The filming dates for the main episode were April 5-7, 1967, not long after they finished Headquarters. Jack Winter wrote “The Picture Frame” as well as “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” “Monkee Mayor,” “”Hitting The High Seas,” and “The Monkees In Texas.” The first three on that list were among the group of leftover first season scripts. Musical numbers in this episode were part of the Rainbow Room performances, shot on August 2, 1967.

Back to the story, the Monkees awkwardly enter the busy bank, guns drawn. Some highlights of this scene include the squeaky voiced bank teller (Joy Harmon) who keeps asking Davy, “Do you have an account here, sir?” Micky’s brief Cagney impression, and Mike’s magic power to speed up time and open a safe by imitating a clock. The bank Vice President was played by Ronald Foster and was also the Rolls Owner in “Success Story” and the Courtier in “Prince and the Paupers.” As they leave, the boys read the scripted lines, telling the bank customers and staff not to move or say anything. The extras put their arms down once the door shuts, but then Micky sticks his head in to say “cut, print that’s a wrap” and they all put their hands back up.

Mike, Micky, and Davy are back on the soundstage. Peter arrived, having gone initially to the wrong stage at the wrong time. J.L. congratulates them, gives them each $100 bucks, and tells them they’ll call tonight about tomorrow’s shoot. Mike offers to take the stuff back but J.L. tells him the “prop people” will handle that, as the Monkees are going to be “big stars.” As they leave, J.L. tells Harvey he’s going to make an anonymous call to the cops.

There’s stock footage of police cars with sirens blazing. Outside the Monkees house is Dort Clark as the Sergeant, previously in the “Monkees à la Cart” episode in a similar role. He’s a funny actor and I wish they’d used him as well for “Alias Micky Dolenz” (though Robert Strauss did a fine job as the Captain.) The Sergeant is with two uniformed policemen. Peter thinks they want his overdue library book, so he crawls to the door and puts the books outside. The Sergeant tells them to stop fooling around. Davy goes up to the lookout window and repeats the gag from “Monkees à la Mode” where he opens it even though he’s too short to see out. Somehow he reports what’s out there: cops, lights, etc. Mike decides it must be tomorrow’s shoot moved up to tonight.

The Sergeant sends one of the uniformed cops in, after some comic uncertainty on the their part. The cop goes into the Monkee pad, stammering and telling them to follow him. Micky says that’s no good and starts directing him how to hold the gun and to be more steely-eyed. Cute, unintentional meta-moment because the cop is played by Robert Michaels, who was also in “The Frodis Caper,” Dolenz’ directorial debut. The cop exits and re-enters, accidentally scaring the Monkees and himself by shooting up the place. The editors cut to stock footage of planes crashing, cars crashing, etc.

At the police station, the Sergeant shows the Monkees the film of themselves robbing the bank. They’re disappointed that it’s black and white but I think it’s actually improbably good for security camera footage. Mike tries to decide what movie star he looks like: Barry Sullivan, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, while Micky and Davy also admire their own performances. Not getting that they’re in deep trouble, they agree it is them on film. Peter walks in with popcorn and the scene becomes a clever parody of a movie audience, with a lady in a hat, a couple making out, a guy sleeping in sunglasses. The Sergeant tells them he’s booking them for the robbery of the 9th National bank. The Monkees are confused. Davy explains, “We were shooting a movie. Some cat came up and said ‘do you want to shoot a movie?’ We said, ‘yeah, we’ll shoot a movie’ So we shot a movie.” Mike realizes how screwed they are and has a nervous breakdown, with hilarious facial expressions.

Now we have the comic sequence of Taking Everything Literally. The Sarge tells the three busted Monkees to “start talking” and so they mutter lyrics to “Zilch,” the isolated vocal track from Headquarters. Sarge tells them to change their tune, so Mike blows a pitch pipe and talks in a higher pitch (okay, not technically changing their “tune.”) He threatens them with the 3rd degree so Micky passes out three diplomas. The cops bring over the bright light but the Monkees respond by pulling out dark glasses and sun-tan lotion. Sarge asks them if they’re ready to spill the beans, and of course the Monkees pour out cans of beans. The Sarge loses it and says to throw the book at them. The cop tosses a book. In the shot where Mike catches it, he’s not wearing his glasses but back in the closeup he’s wearing them again. I’m thinking this is not an accidental continuity error but a deliberate one so he could see to catch the book. In a callback gag, the book is Peter’s overdue library book.

The Monkees, minus Peter, are now pacing around a jail cell. Peter brings them a file, which turns out to be an emery board instead of the expected metal file. Peter unleashes this nonsensical gem, “I don’t think you’re guilty. I just don’t see how you could possibly be innocent.” He found a lawyer from the classifieds but the lawyer won’t attempt get them off, “With that kind of evidence? No chance.” He points to Davy, “him maybe with the cute face.” The not-so cute faces of Micky and Mike are told to plead guilty. The lawyer wants $40,000 to represent them, which they don’t have. The lawyer states the seemingly obvious, “Of course you do, you just robbed a bank, didn’t you?” The lawyer was portrayed by Art Lewis, who was the missing persons inspector in “Find the Monkees.”

Now, the court scenes. The judge asks the Monkees if they’re represented by council. They say yes, but clearly they don’t have a lawyer. She asks them to bring in the first prospective juror. The DA calls in Philip Jackson. It’s actually Mike playing a similar character to the janitor he played in “Captain Crocodile.” The DA objects on the grounds that Mr. Jackson is one of the defendants. The judge scolds Mike for trying to pull a fast one. Mike starts flirting and pulls out some flowers for her. She melts (as do I) as Davy and Micky look on hopefully.

Meanwhile, Peter is back on the soundstage, snooping for evidence against the actual crooks. He has the Sherlock Holmes hat that Micky used in “Monkee See, Monkee Die” and a sleuth-cliché magnifying glass. Peter runs into Harvey who correctly guesses that Peter is snooping. If this were logical, Harvey could have gotten rid of Peter right there, but instead he watches him snoop. Peter finds a picture in the wastebasket and is happy/excited with this evidence. Harvey calls J.L. and tells him what Peter has found. J.L. assumes it’s the incriminating picture of them with the Monkees and orders Harvey to keep Peter there.

Back at the court, Micky adopts a British Barrister persona and questions the bank VP on whether he can be sure Mike was the one who held him up. The bank manager is sure, so Micky asks him a bunch of irrelevant trivia questions (What is the capital of Nova Scotia?) Micky wants to dismiss on the grounds that it is late and everybody’s hungry. The judge joyfully claps her hands for food and Mike and Davy are suddenly ballpark vendors with hot dogs and popcorn. The prosecutor freaks, “Your honor, this is outrageous!” as the judge obliviously enjoys her hot dog.

Mike argues that the dynamite that they supposedly threatened to blow open the safe with was actually harmless. There was no bit like that in the robbery scene, but just roll with it. He lights it, and it goes out as it burns down the wick. The prosecutor objects and grabs the dynamite. Of course it explodes, leaving him not blown to bits, but covered in soot and smoke, a la Daffy Duck. It is to laugh. The judge overrules his objection because this is all insanity anyway.

Peter tries to leave the studio but J.L. comes in with a gun and tells him to hand over the picture. This launches a romp to “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Goffin/King) with Peter running all over the soundstage area we saw in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” and in and out of the “Mammoth Studios” area. This is mixed with Rainbow Room footage of the Monkees performing the song. The gangsters catch Peter in the shower at one point and he pretends to be offended. If this was meant to make sense, they could have shot him a while ago. Outside the soundstage, Peter drives a Monkees logo golf-cart. He seems to have evaded them by climbing the chain-link fence but they simply open the gate.

Somehow he gets to the courthouse with the picture. The music is still playing as Peter runs all over the courtroom with the gangsters chasing him. The Monkees protect Peter while the police grab the gangsters. Romp over, J.L. yells at Harvey for not emptying the wastebasket (or you know, shredding the picture, destroying the negative etc.) Mike, Micky, and Davy crowd around Peter hoping he’s got the picture they need, but naturally it’s the baby picture. They hand it over to the judge anyway who gasps at the cuteness and decides they’re “obviously innocent.” That was certainly in keeping with the ridiculous logic of everything else in this story.

Next up is more Rainbow Room footage of “Randy Scouse Git” (Dolenz). This series of song performance film clips were shot in the summer of 1967, in the middle of the Monkees concert tour. Due to race riots taking place in both Milwaukee and Detroit at that time, a couple of the Monkees performances were cancelled so they ended up with some extra time in Chicago. The Monkees producers booked time in Fred Niles Studios (later Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios was there; sadly it is now torn down). In the Fred Niles Studies room with a robin’s egg blue and rainbow background, the Monkees filmed promo clips for “Daydream Believer,” “She Hangs Out,” “No Time,” “Randy Scouse Git,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Love Is Only Sleeping,” “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ ‘Round?,” and “Salesman.” If you look at the recording dates of these songs, some of them were not complete yet so the Monkees were lip-syncing to rough versions. More about this here.

I enjoy all the Rainbow Room performances, they have an iconic look and are the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Monkees performance clips. Last summer I was lucky enough to be invited to discuss the Rainbow Room with a panel of smart Monkees fans on Zilch! A Monkees Podcast. Check it out here.

The Monkees are in great form in this story, working together with crack comic timing to create mischief in the justice system. With the dynamite, the literal sight gags, and the absurd plot points, “The Picture Frame” would certainly get my vote for Most Cartoony. It’s a tightly put-together farce, with it’s own insane sense of logic that builds up to a wacky finish. The solution with the baby picture certainly isn’t any more ridiculous than the Monkees just tying up the bad guys at the end of the romp like they usually do. “The Picture Frame” has one laugh-out-loud scene after another and it’s certainly worth watching for entertainment value.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Extreme Cinema! A Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse

Extreme Cinema episodes are released once-per-month. This is because when we record, we usually wind up spending two to three hours discussing these movies. We have to watch the movies first, that takes about two weeks. We’re busy guys and Andrew and his wife just had a baby. After we record, I listen to the episode twice to figure out edit-points, sound effects, and where to put the clips. After that I start cutting for dialogue. I run the episode again to place clips and sound effects. I put the clips in and find the right spot for the intermission. I go through the episode again to take out the “uhs” and “ers” and gaps in the audio for piss breaks and diaper changes, and then I add in the intro and outro music and voila! A brand new episode of Extreme Cinema! So it’s a three-week process for me from recording to editing; add in an extra week for Bronwyn’s art and there you have it. I pride the show on having Bronwyn’s episode-specific artwork.

Tonight, we’re talking about John Boorman, an excellent often underrated filmmaker with a phenomenal body of work, again an eclectic mix of different genres, everything from cop movies to science fiction and fantasy. We have two movies we’re looking at in-depth directed by Boorman and starring the great Lee Marvin. Lee Marvin was an early champion of Boorman. He used his star power to get Boorman hired.

In Point Blank, a desperate John Vernon has a plan to get some loot.  He gets buddy Lee Marvin in on the heist, and the idea is to tell the story in a modified flashback, or at least to get the back-story.  He remembers Vernon’s words in a great out-of-context kind of way, but five minutes in, it’s obvious Vernon double-crossed him.  He told Marvin they weren’t going to kill anybody, but when they see their marks, he fires his gun and kills everybody.  Vernon shoots Marvin and leaves him for dead.  Marvin wants his cut, and he also wants a little revenge!

I watched Payback again to compare it with Point Blank; I wasn’t aware that Point Blank was an early adaptation of Richard Stark’s book, The Hunter, or that Payback was also an adaptation of the same source material. Bronwyn and I saw Payback back when it came out. It was unusual for us, in that it was a movie we were both very interested in seeing, even though it’s kind of a down and dirty action exploitation movie with the familiar beats of a revenge fantasy. This was Mel Gibson at his best, before he got all loopy. His Icon Productions made the movie, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (who won an Oscar for his L.A. Confidential script). It follows the same story as Point Blank, but executed differently – a kind of a straight line narrative, we start with a flashback and then go to the beginning.

We move on to Hell in the Pacific – great title and again directed by John Boorman, shot in beautiful Panavision, photographed by Connie Hall, who photographed Marathon Man among other classics.  We have the quiet, contemplative Toshiro Mifune meditating on an island, I surmise Guadalcanal with the breaking of water on the shore.  He searches with binoculars – perhaps he’s looking for a rescue boat, who knows?  We don’t know yet.  We’re not supposed to know.  We see Lee Marvin under a lean-to, some kind of a shelter, talking to himself.  Toshiro stalks the jungle.  I don’t know if Toshiro knows Marvin is near.

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:33:15

Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. We do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

 

Vintage Cable Box: Where the Buffalo Roam, 1980

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“This is a party, not a safari!”

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Where the Buffalo Roam, 1980 (Bill Murray), MCA/Universal

“He was … known for his lifelong use of alcohol and illegal drugs, his love of firearms, and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism. He remarked: ‘I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.'”

I figured in this review of the notorious 1980 folly, the unprescribed medley of moments in the life of celebrated writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Where the Buffalo Roam, I would adopt the persona of celebrated writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. As long as the persona does not irritate, dear reader. Fishing cap? Check! Extra-long cigarette holder? Check! Hawaiian t-shirt? Check!  In a phrase, he was celebrated for being celebrated.

His memories exist as a wild anecdote, only partially rendered impotent by the gross complications of a film director who has lost his personal sense of humor, and instead relented and choked from insatiable gasps of Bill Murray’s star power. He lives in a swanky cabin in Colorado. His fax machine belches, demands tasty portions of words, with which he is not ready to part. Instead he shoots the infernal machine, and sicks his Doberman on the tasty testicles of his Nixon effigy. He looks at a picture of his beloved hippy attorney, Carl Lazlo (Peter Boyle) and remembers those times, some ten years back in San Francisco. Lazlo is an idealist. He defends the weak. Helps the helpless! He’s God’s own prototype! To weird to live. To rare to die. I know. I stole those words directly from the real Thompson, but I can’t help it. The man was such a brilliant fuck-face, it’s hard to imagine anyone (even Master Johnny Depp) portraying him in any meaningful way.

Lazlo spends a lot of his time defending young idiots on marijuana possession counts.  I understand his reasoning.  These are victimless crimes, but in trendy San Francisco, end-of-the-decade, with colleagues seducing him to the dark side; rich clients and cushy digs, Lazlo doesn’t care.  In these all-important character scenes, we become convinced we’re watching the story of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer (which is probably interesting enough to work on it’s own) instead of a story about the celebrated icon.  Lazlo is demoralized watching his clients sentenced to hard time in prison for what would amount to (in my view) petty misdemeanors, but such are the breaks in the world of the old and powerful.  He flips out when a particularly young client gets five years in jail for possession of one joint.  He’s held in contempt, while Thompson sits on a deadline and makes his editor (Bruno Kirby) pray for Lazlo’s swift release (and also for all the people of the world).

We move forward a few years as Thompson is covering the Super Bowl.  I don’t think he has any interest in covering sports, but he runs up a huge expense account at the hotel where he is staying (including Crab Louie and sixteen grapefruit).  He trashes the hotel room, dresses the staff in football equipment. and causes a ton of havoc on his floor.  The next morning, Lazlo (wearing a Nixon mask) catches up with him.  He stopped being an attorney full-time, and now cavorts with the younger set.  Thomspon ditches his assignment to become Lazlo’s traveling companion.  I wonder if, in these later scenes, Lazlo isn’t simply a figment of Thompson’s potent and overactive imagination.  Lazlo tells him he’s been “reborn”, running guns for paramilitary types out of Mexico.  Whatever floats your boat, Lazlo.  He wants Thompson to write a story about the “struggle.”  The movie is a push-pull of idealism and gluttony that never kicks into gear, mostly because I think those so-called revolutionaries of the time could never get their shit together in a worthwhile way.

The movie is a mess, editorially, with no flow except for episodic moments in which Murray crosses paths with Boyle’s Lazlo.  For his part, Boyle is extraordinary, but he acts in a vacuum.  Murray’s Thompson is a baroque caricature.  While obviously devoted to playing this part (with some guidance from the real Thompson), he comes over as an inebriated middle-child with autism, hiding a feverish addiction to alcohol and other various substances.  Despite good production locales and photography, Where the Buffalo Roam does no favors for the time period, and the social and the political unrest it attempts to show us.  I often wonder if this is the beginning or the end of self-destructive behavior, as Thompson’s exploits become bigger and more dangerous with each scene change.

Later releases of the movie remove key bits of music, due to rights issues, and replace them with “sound-alike” tracks, which make the whole thing even more unbearable to watch.  In retrospect, I had the same issues watching Terry Gilliam’s similar Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, however that movie improves on subsequent viewings, but Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s legacy has been tarnished by his God-given desire to numb himself in any way he could.  In a way, Thompson was his own prototype.  Too rare to live, but always ready to die.

still-hasnt-gotten-weird-enough-for-me
It still hasn’t gotten weird enough for me.

“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.